Heonin Village, located in Seocho-Gu, Seoul, was historically a village used to house lepers and isolate them from society. While the village’s leprosy problems have long been alleviated, the
descendants of the original people of the village have continued to reside in the area fordecades.
Oh Se-Hoon, the current opposition candidate for the mayor of Seoul, and previous mayor of Seoul, approved a city development project for the village in 2009. The project supposedly
aimed to improve the living standards for people in the village, who have long been neglected and isolated from society.
15 Years Lost
What initially seemed to be welcome news for the village turned out to be the beginning of a series of betrayals, lies and disappointment.
Oh Se-Hoon, the then mayor of Seoul, approved a Cooperative - a legal entity that is responsible for the city development. Such a Cooperative is usually formed solely of the landowners of the area. However, this Cooperative also consists of people who had no land ownership rights, but who lent their names to an unnamed developer in order to give the developer more voting power within the Cooperative. The unnamed developer then pursued the development of the area without the consent from the villagers and rightful landowners.
What is more, the unnamed developer carried out a series of attempted murders, arson attacks and other acts of violence against the people of the village, likely in an attempt to get rid of the villagers and pursue the development project without hindrance.
Further developments in the project have been on hold for over 10 years, largely due to internal issues including legal suits between the unnamed private developer and the aforementioned name lenders. Yet, during this time, numerous other politicians have wreaked havoc in the village. These politicians include Choi Sun-Sil - the prime person of interest in the 2016 political scandalinvolving her influence over the 11th President of South Korea, Park Geun-Hye; Ahn Jong-Beom - the former Blue House Senior Secretary to the President for Economic Affairs; and Chung Yoon-Hoi - the chief of staff to president Park Geun-Hye. Although unsuccessful, all of the above-named politicians have attempted to develop the village, deliberately ignoring the livelihoods and voices of the villagers.
One of the villagers, who has been living in the area for more than 50 years, lamented, “I wish Oh Se-Hoon had never approved the development. We were living perfectly happy lives with friends and family until politicians started showing interest in our town. Now the whole town is overshadowed with only fear and pain.”
The Villager’s Efforts to Fight Back
Since 2009, the villagers have filed countless petitions, reports and lawsuits in order to take back their rights. Fortunately, Hwang Hee, the representative of the Democratic Party and the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, raised the issue during the annual audit of the government and Park Won-Soon, the former mayor of Seoul, promised that he would thoroughly review the issue with related officials and redress the wrongdoings.
However, this promise was never kept. Instead, the government has approved a revised Cooperative in April 2020, which still consisted of name-lenders. Moreover, the government has approved a development plan submitted by the new Cooperative in March 2021, even though the mayor seat for Seoul lay vacant.
The villagers expressed their anger at this development, saying, “the lawsuit filed against the Cooperative has been postponed for more than a year now. The government officials know that there is an ongoing case and yet they still proceeded with the approval. It seemed like they wish that we all just keep suffering to death.” Another villager stated that “the government is clearly helping the developer to pursue unlawful business in our town, but no media outlets wanted to investigate into our suffering because it is too political charged.”
Justice for Heonin Village
For several years, the villagers have suffered countless human rights abuses. Hoping that the government will listen to them, the villagers have never filed a lawsuit against the government
itself. However, the villagers now feel that the government has had many chances to step in and help them, and that this is now the last straw. They have recently filed a police report against the mayor of Seocho-Gu and against other related officials in charge of processing the development plan. The villagers proclaimed that “we have already lost 15 years due to
irresponsible government officials and the greed of politicians. Now we have nothing else to lose. We will never yield to injustice and will continue fighting.”
Jo Hee-kyung, Reporter for EPN News